Your Brain and Alcohol

A close-up view of red wine in a glass
Igor Normann/Shutterstock

You know you shouldn’t drink too much alcohol, but you’ve probably heard that one or two drinks a day (especially wine) is no big deal and could even have health benefits. But it may not be that simple.

“There’s always been a story that moderate drinking, particularly red wine, might be good for you. But that’s become quite controversial, and many people dispute it now,” says Anya Topiwala, a senior clinical researcher in the department of psychiatry at the University of Oxford in England.

More recent evidence, including research Topiwala has conducted, suggests not only that moderate drinking may not be beneficial but that it could also, in fact, do harm — and that no amount of alcohol is beneficial for your brain.  

The Global Council on Brain Health reviewed the existing research as of 2017 and concluded that even small amounts of alcohol may hurt the brain. While the GCBH doesn’t make a specific recommendation about drinking, it does advise that no one should start drinking if they don’t already.

Some research does suggest that moderate drinking — about one to two drinks a day — can help lower your risk of death from heart disease and possibly reduce your risk of diabetes and some types of stroke. But other research indicates that regardless of these benefits, even a little imbibing every week, over time, can take a toll on the brain.

Until more research is available on the effects of even smaller amounts of booze, your own health care providers may continue to recite the old adage “All things in moderation.”

“Everyone accepts a different level of risk. It’s a very personal decision,” Topiwala says. “But I want people to know that it’s a myth that drinking is good for brain health. People should be knowledgeable about that if they choose to drink.”

For more about the effects of alcohol on brain health, read the full article, “Your Brain and Alcohol,” on Staying Sharp.

This content is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any expert, professional or specialty advice or recommendations. Readers are urged to consult with their medical providers for all questions.

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